Timestamp #133: Frontios

Doctor Who: Frontios
(4 episodes, s21e07-e10, 1984)

 

Base under siege… again.

An expedition is studying minerals underground when the mine shaft collapses around them, killing the team (and colony) leader, Captain Revere. Chief Orderly Brazen, head of security for the colony, swears the remaining members to secrecy. His scientific officer, Mr. Range, fervently disagrees.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is fidgeting, including obsessing over the placement of the hatstand. The time capsule drifts into orbit of Frontios, home to the survivors of human civilization after the Earth collided with the sun. The Doctor refuses to set down, fearing contamination of the civilization since it is on the edge of Gallifreyan knowledge, but the TARDIS is forced down by a meteor shower. The same meteor shower has bombarded the surface, and soon enough the travelers are engaged to help the injured. The Doctor is taken aback by the primitive state of the colony, and he asks Mr. Range to not speak of his influence on their society. Word of unidentified attacks piques the Doctor’s interest and he tosses aside the non-interference policy to lend a hand.

Word of the TARDIS’s arrival makes its way to the colony’s leader, Plantagenet (Captain Revere’s son, presumably named for the House of Plantagenet), and he muses that it may the beginning of a prophesied invasion.

Tegan and Turlough note that the TARDIS interior has deformed, but the Doctor doesn’t pay attention to their concerns. Tegan and Turlough offer to help solve the medical bay’s lighting problem with help from a colonist named Norna. The plan is to break into the nearby crashed colony ship and steal a jar of acid to amplify the chemical lights. They are interrupted by Plantagenet and Brazen, but after they leave the trio sneak into the ship.

Range explains their history to the Doctor: After the ship crashed, their technology was destroyed and the survivors spent the ensuing decade tilling the fields until the bombardments began. Plantagenet joins the discussion and expresses his doubts, and the Doctor warns that the constant paranoia will destroy what’s left of the colony. As a new series of bombardments begin, the trio of thieves bring the acid jar to the medical area and the Doctor suggests that they should depart, leaving the colonists to their own fates. Unfortunately, the bombardment strikes the TARDIS. All that is left is the hatstand in the rubble of the destroyed time capsule.

Wait… what?

Well, then.

The travelers are reeling from their loss, but are brought back to reality by the firing squad that surrounds them. Norna jumps to their defense, suggesting that if the Doctor is an invader, then he should remain alive to reveal the mystery of the bombardments. The colonial leadership decides to kill the Doctor until Turlough steps in with the hatstand to defend the Time Lord. The leadership relents and the Doctor agrees to analyze the meteorites and solve the mystery, but as Plantagenet attacks Turlough, he collapses and clutches his heart. The Doctor recognizes the symptoms of a glancing blow by a meteorite and has the man taken to the medical center.

The colonists have never seen a hatstand? Really? Okay.

Tegan learns more about the colony, including the existence of Retrogrades (those who have abandoned the colony) and the predilection of the orderlies to shoot the deserters on sight. She also notes a set of secret files labeled “Deaths Unaccountable,” but Range forbids her from looking at them. The Doctor and the medical team arrive and use the new lighting system as a defibrillator. The man is saved, and the leaders are more trusting.

Norna and Turlough analyze the meteorites and discuss why digging underground is forbidden. Turns out that the planet is hungry. Turlough notes that the samples are dated after the closure of the quarry, so he starts snooping about. He and Norna take a trip into the tunnels from the serial’s opening scenes and find that the rock is “moth-eaten.” Further in, the rock turns slick and polished, and as the pair explore they are followed by two creatures.

The Doctor and Range return to the research room, leaving Tegan with Brazen in the medical room. When Tegan accidentally mentions the unaccountable files, Brazen breaks into the files and moves to confront Range. Meanwhile, Tegan finds Plantagenet on the ground, but when she leaves to find help, he is pulled into the soil. Just outside, the colonists are becoming restless and starting to loot the colony ship, and Tegan takes the opportunity to escape from Brazen. She returns to the colony ship and follows the Doctor and Range into the tunnels.

Turlough remembers something about “Tractators,” which he screams to the Doctor and Range before entering a catatonic state. The Doctor and Tegan go ahead and find a group of the creatures holding Norna in a gravity field. They spot the Doctor and drag him in as well, but Tegan saves them by using her chemical lamp as a fiery distraction. Tegan takes Norna to safety while the Doctor investigates the Tractators. Tegan and Range race off to help the Doctor, but the Doctor and Tegan are snared in another gravity field. The Doctor repeats Tegan’s trick to free them.

Range returns to Norna, watching as Turlough continues to babble. It turns out that the Tractators invaded his homeworld, and the rantings are the ancestral memory bubbling to the surface. Range and Norna escort him to the surface. Topside, Brazen breaks free and finds Orderly Cockerill looting. He is escorted out of the colony ship to the waiting Retrogrades, but Brazen does nothing to help him when the Retrogrades attack for the rations Cockerill stole. His body is pulled into the soil without a word from his fellow looters. Brazen meets up with Range at the entrance to the quarry, and Range’s group is arrested.

The Doctor and Tegan witness Cockerill being pulled below the surface, and the presence distracts the Tractator and disrupts Cockerill’s disappearance. Since he supposedly defied the hungry earth, the Retrogrades start to admire him.

Upon questioning, Range reveals that his records are evidence of the myth that Frontios buries its own dead. Brazen overhears Turlough’s rantings, and the pieces all come together: Revere and Plantagenet may still be alive because the Tractators need living minds. Underground, the Doctor and Tegan discover that the Tractators are sentient and intelligent, but it’s unclear why they are tunneling.

The lead Tractator, Gravis, confronts Plantagenet, waiting for their old extractor driver’s mind to die before replacing it with the human’s. As Brazen leads a team (guided by a captive Range, followed later by Turlough who takes Range’s place) into the tunnels, Gravis sends the extractor as bait to lure the Doctor. When it catches up to them, it is being driven by the enslaved mind of Captain Revere.

Gravis knows of the Doctor by reputation and is intrigued by Tegan’s accidental reveal of the TARDIS (or what’s left of it). The Tractators have been stranded on Frontios for five centuries and are eager to get on their way. The Doctor convinces Gravis that Tegan is an android (thus, saving her from being installed in the extractor) and learns that the Tractators are responsible for the bombardments and the original crash of the colony ship. Plantagenet is almost installed in the extractor, but the Doctor frees him thanks to a distraction from Tegan and Turlough. They all nearly escape, but Turlough is mesmerized by the machine and inadvertently traps Brazen in its clutches.

That boy is an idiot.

Luckily, Brazen is able to run the machine out of control and destroy it. Using the information that the team has gathered, the Doctor concludes that the Tractators are building a gravity drive so they can pilot the entire planet like a starship. They also learn that there is a second excavator machine, because redundancy. It also has a new pilot thanks to all the humans running about in the caves.

Topside, Norna is attacked by a Retrograde, saved by Cockerill, and learns of her savior’s armed revolution with his new followers. Cockerill ties her up, but she breaks free and informs the revolutionaries of the threat below.

Tegan discovers that the walls of the TARDIS are growing in the cave system, which helps when the team is chased into the console room. It’s non-functional but serves as a suitable distraction to isolate Gravis from the rest of the Tractators courtesy of his desire to leave the planet. The Doctor tricks Gravis into reassembling the time capsule, an act that places the occupants into the TARDIS’s dimensions and severs the Gravis’s psychic link to his own kind.

The Doctor and Tegan drop the Gravis on the uninhabited moon of Kolkokron. Upon their return, they gift Plantagenet with the hatstand in exchange for his silence in the Doctor’s interference. When they dematerialize, the TARDIS malfunctions and is pulled toward the middle of the universe, setting up the next adventure.

This was an okay base-under-siege story. We get some background on Turlough (though I still couldn’t care less about the character), a new bit of trivia about how the TARDIS can be destroyed and reassemble itself, and some decent action with a new (if somewhat underwhelming) enemy. Also, the Doctor breaking out the spectacles to investigate the machine was fun.

The big problem I had was the loose thread of Cockerill and the Revolutionaries (there’s a band name for you), who were warned about the threat underground but were never seen again in the story. That’s a bit sloppy.

 

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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Timestamp #132: The Awakening

Doctor Who: The Awakening
(2 episodes, s21e05-e06, 1984)

 

A new adventure starts by showing us that “it’s just a joke” often isn’t.

A schoolteacher named Jane Hampden is being harassed by English civil war re-enactors. She thinks they’ve taken things too far, but Sir George and his band blow off her concerns because she just doesn’t get it.

You know, despite all the anger in fandom over the Thirteenth Doctor, it’s pretty obvious that Doctor Who has been pretty progressive for quite a long time.

The Doctor is taking Tegan on a special trip to visit her grandfather, but the TARDIS is acting strangely. When they materialize, they find a man in a crumbling structure, but the man runs away. Based on the man’s clothing, the travelers have arrived in the 17th century, but the TARDIS coordinates read as 1984. As our heroes explore, smoke pours from a crack a wall. They don’t see it, and neither do they see the re-enactors who round them up and take them to Sir George.

Sir George’s retinue informs Tegan that her grandfather is missing, and she angrily storms out. After having her purse stolen, she sees flashing lights and the ethereal image of an old man before being rescued by Turlough. After the Doctor sneaks away, Sir George sends his men to find the travelers based on Tegan’s grandfather. After all, “something strange but wonderful” is coming to the village.

The Doctor pursues a man carrying Tegan’s purse back to the church, and in short order, Tegan, Turlough, and the Doctor join forces with Will Chandler, a supposed 17th-century peasant. As the Doctor convinces Will of the truth of his temporal dislocation, Tegan and Turlough return to the TARDIS and see the flashing blue lights again. They are soon captured while searching for the Doctor, and Tegan is forced to adopt the role of Queen of the May.

Will and the Doctor discover a hidden passage from the church to the manor, conveniently decorated with the face of something called Malus. They join up with Jane, who is being pursued, and hide from Sir George’s forces. While in hiding, they find a sample of tincalvic, a metal mined by the Tereleptils on the planet Raaga for the people of Hakol. Hakol is a place where psychic energy is harnessed, and the metal is part of a spacecraft or probe. As they return to the church, they discover a large face emerging from the crack in the wall, and after surviving a psychic projection from the Malus, they escape to the tunnel.

En route, the Doctor talks to Jane about the Malus, which is feeding off the psychic energy of the war games. The Doctor fails to convince Sir George to stop the war games, and Sir George orders Colonel Woolsey to execute the Doctor’s team. Woolsey disobeys by switching sides and collaborating with the Doctor to stop the threat. Meanwhile, Turlough encounters Andrew Verney, the man who discovered the Malus and was imprisoned by Sir George to keep it secret.

So, the Doctor places himself on the front lines of the Queen of the May celebration, and Woolsley delivers a mockup of Tegan to draw off the soldiers. Verney and Turlough break out of their cell, while the Doctor collects Will, and everyone converges on the church to battle the Disney Imagineer façade that is the Malus.

The Malus fights back by draining all the psychic energy from the villagers to battle the Doctor, but the energy is wasted when a random redshirt runs in and is decapitated by projected soldiers. Sir George, completely under the thrall of the Malus, confronts the Doctor. The Doctor logics his way into Sir George’s head and the battle between good and evil disarms the leader. In a surprise move, Will pushes the helpless man into the gaping maw of the Malus. The Doctor says cold-blooded murder is okay, but we all know that it’s really not.

The Doctor shepherds the whole lot to the TARDIS and takes off just in time as the church collapses around the self-destructing Malus. The Doctor makes arrangements to put everyone back in their proper places, and Tegan convinces everyone to convince the Doctor to stay in the village for a while. After all, they came to visit her grandfather, and Mr. Verney is right there.

Nothing says family reunion like running for your lives, right?

This one was a compressed evil alien versus the village scenario, and it was just okay. The team is working well together (which is good) but the narrative took a lot of shortcuts to fit the two episode limit (which is bad). I usually don’t mind the special effects, but the face of Malus was particularly laughable. What wasn’t funny was the Doctor excusing cold-blooded murder. That’s not in character at all.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Frontios

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #131: Warriors of the Deep

Doctor Who: Warriors of the Deep
(4 episodes, s21e01-e04, 1984)

 

Welcome to the dark ethical corner.

We last saw the Silurians and the Sea Devils in the Third Doctor’s era, and now they’re teaming up to attack an underwater base. From the opening and the title, I assume that’s where the base was, but there are armed guards in the passageways. Are armed incursions that frequent despite being isolated by high pressure water?

Anyway…

A Silurian submersible triggers the base’s sensors but disappears soon after. The commander launches a probe to investigate, ready to fire missiles at their enemy on a moment’s notice, but the probe is destroyed. The Silurians are investigating the fate of their Sea Devil brothers (presumably the ones who were entombed when their underwater base was destroyed back in the Third Doctor’s era), curious as to why the latter have not woken up after so long. They find the sleeping Sea Devils and awaken them from their slumber.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is driving and Turlough announces his decision to remain aboard for the near future. The Doctor is skeptical of this decision (as am I) but informs the lad that they are headed to Earth and that he should inform Tegan. When they materialize, they find themselves in Earth orbit and under the guns of a sentry satellite. The TARDIS dodges the sentry’s weapons and materializes in the sea base’s engineering section. Being the Doctor and crew, the travelers explore the area and the Doctor determines that they have arrived in another cold war era in Earth’s history. While exploring, they trip a security alert and run for the TARDIS.

Ensign Maddox, a young and inexperienced officer who temporarily replaced an officer who was killed in a freak accident, is nervous about going to war. After the probe is destroyed, the station commences a missile run, and Maddox freezes under the pressure. After being coerced into the sync chair, the missile run is revealed to be a simulation and Maddox collapses. The ensign is taken to the infirmary where he is declared unfit for duty, but the medical staff (Doctor Solow and an officer named Nilson) suggests reprogramming the young officer’s brain. The commander releases the sensitive reprogramming disk to their custody before returning to the bridge. We also discover that Solow and Nilson are working for the enemy as a freshly rebooted Maddox is returned to duty.

En route to the TARDIS, the Doctor sets the station’s reactor to overload as a distraction, but they are discovered by the roving security teams. The Doctor defends his companions, an act that sees him falling off the catwalks into the waters below as they run away. The Doctor takes the opportunity to swim into a nearby hatch.

What’s with that one guard knocking senselessly on the wall?

The Silurians, led by Icthar, and the Sea Devils, led by Sauvix, hatch a plan to attack the seabase. Meanwhile, Turlough is captured, the Doctor dons a guard’s uniform, another set of guards miss their disrobed comrade lying in a passageway, and Tegan meets up with the Doctor. The “what have you been eating” joke was a little funny, but only once in the two-minute span that it was repeated.

Turlough spills what he knows about the Doctor and the TARDIS, but before he is taken away for a mind probe, he is rescued at gunpoint by the Doctor. Meanwhile, the roving guards find the TARDIS and walk right in (oh, for the love of…!), establishing a tentative trust between the travelers and the base commander. This trust is tested when the Silurian battlecruiser approached the base and the commander opens fire against the Doctor’s recommendation. The Silurians turn the energy beam back on the base with their deflectors, opening a way through the base’s defenses.

The Doctor harbors a lot of regret about the Silurians, who he calls a noble species who only wanted to live in peace. He tries to persuade the commander to his cause but is interrupted by the Silurian forces as they attack with a creature called the Myrka (which is pretty much a seaweed-clad space pantomime horse). While the base is distracted, Solow and Nilson activate Maddox’s programming, forcing him to work for them as they sabotage the base.

Tegan and the Doctor are trapped in the airlock as the Myrka smashes through the inner door. The commander orders the airlock to be sealed, locking Tegan and the Doctor inside with the Myrka. Turlough runs from the guards, who then take station as the Doctor and Tegan fight the Myrka. Turlough ends up on the bridge and coerces the crewman to cycle the door. The Doctor and Tegan escape, but the Myrka jams the door with its leg, escaping into the base and wreaking havoc.

At Airlock Five, Commander Vorshak and the Doctor confer with considerable confrontation. The Doctor enacts a plan to stop the Myrka as the Sea Devils breach the airlock and push back the human defenders. As the commander’s team seals the corridor bulkhead, Turlough arrives and is pressed into service with his rifle. The Sea Devils burn through the bulkhead, and the commander heads for the bridge to call for help, an act that will reveal the base’s location to the world.

The Doctor’s team assembles an ultraviolet radiation beam projector in the Myrka’s path. Meanwhile, Doctor Solow leaves the bridge with Maddox’s disc, intent on delivering it to her superiors, but contact with the Myrka (and an ill-fated karate kick) end her journey in short order. The guards return the disc to Vorshak, which clues him into the nefarious schemes afoot. He returns to the bridge, confronts Nilson, and discovers Maddox tearing the computers apart. Vorshak tries to stop Maddox, and Nilson disables Maddox with his controller. Back in the corridor, the Doctor kills the Myrka with the ultraviolet beam, looking somewhat sad about the necessity.

Vorshak questions Nilson, but the traitor gets the drop on the commander (and the Doctor and Tegan as they report in). Maddox comes to his senses and draws his sidearm, but Nilson kills him with the control box. After a brief scuffle, Nilson takes Tegan hostage and leaves the bridge with the promise that once he leaves, the base will be destroyed. The Doctor receives word that the intruders have taken Turlough and security officer Bulic hostage, prompting him to pursue Nilson, catching up to him at the ultraviolet generator. Tegan distracts Nilson, and the Doctor blinds him with the beam. Nilson stumbles into the Sea Devils and they kill him, then they take aim on the Doctor and Tegan but the situation is temporarily defused when the Doctor identifies himself. Tegan is ushered to the holding cells while the Time Lord is reunited with Icthar.

The Doctor negotiates with Icthar, but the Silurian is jaded by the last two attempts at peace and plans to instigate mutually assured destruction among the humans so that the Silurians can take the planet. Icthar forces Vorshak to start the launch process while Tegan and Turlough spearhead an escape and rescue attempt. In the escape attempt, the Doctor joins the human survivors and infiltrates the chemical storeroom. A Sea Devil inadvertently triggers a hexachromite leak and is dissolved. The human soldiers suggest using it on the invaders on the bridge, and the Doctor angrily dismisses the proposal, opting for a non-lethal solution. Unfortunately, a missile alert warns them that launch is imminent and the Doctor decides to follow the lethal recommendation.

Sauvix finds the group and threatens the Doctor’s life. Officer Preston sacrifices herself as Bulic gasses the Sea Devil, and the team continues to the bridge. The Doctor pleads for peace one last time, but the Silurians and Sea Devils fight until the gas overtakes them. Tegan gives them oxygen while the Doctor syncs with the computer, stopping the missile launch at the last moment. In the process, the commander is fatally wounded by Icthar, who is then killed by Turlough.

The day is saved, but the price is high. The Doctor, in a mix of anger and sorrow, looks upon the carnage and remarks, “There should have been another way.”

 

At its core, this was a decent base invasion/chase story. I enjoyed seeing the noble Silurians and Sea Devils again, and despite a little padding and the large amounts of violence, this tale was quite good. I did appreciate the Doctor sticking to his values until it was proven by the Silurians that there was no other way, and I’m glad to see the message of intellect and romance triumphing over brute force and cynicism shining through.

We haven’t seen it in a while, and it has an added power here: The Doctor obviously keeps the message in his hearts, but today he failed to achieve it… and it’s tearing him apart.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Awakening

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp: Twentieth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Twentieth Series Summary

timestamp-logo-fourth-fifth

 

It’s a bump up at the very least.

The Nineteenth Series was a low water mark, and this group of serials recovered enough to join several others in a grouping just below the to-date average. The focus of the Twentieth Series appeared to be revisiting the greatest hits of the franchise, but it’s worth noting that very few of them were from the black and white era.

The high scoring stories – Arc of Infinity and Mawdryn Undead – revisited Omega and the Brigadier, both of which were primarily Third Doctor elements. Snakedance and Enlightenment brought in the middle ground with the Mara and the White and Black Guardians, the former being a Fifth Doctor enemy and the latter being from the Fourth Doctor’s era. The low marks – Terminus and The King’s Demons – bade farewell to Fourth Doctor companion Nyssa and welcomed back The Master, a Third Doctor and beyond enemy.

Before The Five Doctors, the references to the First and Second Doctor were minimal and (with minor exception) limited to their colorized era appearances. Sure, the majority of the franchise has been in the colorized era, but it seems rather disingenuous to run a greatest hits series without much mention of the show’s roots.

The Five Doctors fixed a lot of that by pulling in elements from the entire scope of the twenty-year history, though I feel that the entire twentieth-anniversary celebration could have been improved by solidifying those connections throughout the seven-story run.

The companions have also been a point of vexation: Kamelion is a big ol’ mystery box right now, Turlough is irritating, and Tegan has never been particularly strong. After Nyssa’s departure (in a story where she spent most of her screentime in her underwear) there isn’t much for me to identify with among the Doctor’s assistants.

The upside is that the Fifth Doctor has been evolving and getting more comfortable in his skin. He’s becoming more of a father figure, which I appreciate.

 

Now for the numbers: This series joins the Sixth, Fifteenth, and Seventeenth in a four-way tie for fourteenth place. It’s also below the average-to-date for all of the twenty series so far, which is 3.7.

 

Arc of Infinity – 4
Snakedance – 3
Mawdryn Undead – 4
Terminus – 2
Enlightenment – 3
The King’s Demons – 2
The Five Doctors – 5

Series Nineteen Average Rating: 3.3/5

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Warriors of the Deep

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #130: The Five Doctors

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors
(Twentieth Anniversary Special, 1983)

 

“I am being diminished, whittled away piece by piece. A man is the sum of his memories you know, a Time Lord even more so…”

After a heart-touching introduction by the First Doctor, we find the Fifth Doctor – To save on confusion, I’m going to call them by number right out of the gate – putting the finishing touches on a brand new control console, and I actually kind of like it. The team is relaxing at the Eye of Orion, taking some time away from the rush of their recent adventures. The tranquil atmosphere has something to do with a bombardment of positive ions, and the Doctor agrees with Tegan that they can vacation for a little while.

Elsewhere, a black-gloved hand fiddles with controls and activates a scanner. On the screen is none other than the First Doctor (though not quite the genuine article due to an obvious need for recasting). A black Phantom Zone-like two-dimensional triangle swoops down and scoops up the Time Lord, an act that causes the Fifth Doctor considerable pain. The First Doctor is reduced to an Eaglemoss figurine and placed on a crystalline display.

Next up, we’re taken to UNIT HQ where Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is talking to his replacement, Colonel Crighton, when the Second Doctor arrives. The Time Lord has arrived to attend the Brig’s farewell speech and is unhappy with the renovations at UNIT HQ. He and the Brigadier take a walk, reminiscing over the Yeti, the Cybermen, Omega, and the Terrible Zodin (okay, not so much that one) before they too are swept into the Phantom Zone and turned into toys.

On to the Third Doctor, who is trying to outrace the spinning triangle in Bessie. He fails.

Tegan and Turlough escort the Fifth Doctor to the TARDIS, where he tells them that he must find his older selves to stop whatever is chewing at his soul. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sarah Jane and K9 puzzle over the danger that the robotic dog detects. Sarah Jane ignores his concerns and heads to the bus for her daily schedule. She’s later consumed by the mysterious triangle.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana are punting down the river at Cambridge, just like they did in Shada. It’s a clever re-use of footage, really. Anyway, they are also taken, which causes the Fifth Doctor to collapse, but not before he sets the coordinates. The Fifth Doctor fades in and out before the TARDIS lands, and the mysterious figure adds models of Tegan, Turlough, and the Fifth Doctor to the display.

On Gallifrey, the Inner Council has convened, comprised of a newly-regenerated President Borusa, High Chancellor Flavia, and the Castellan. Shockingly, they admit the Master for a conference. The Inner Council offer a pardon for his long list of crimes and a whole new regeneration cycle in exchange for one act: He is to rescue the Doctor.

Surprise!

The First Doctor wanders an angular cave of mirrors, joined in a surprise appearance by Susan. (There were cheers from this Whovian. I’ve missed her.) The pair run as a Dalek (we haven’t seen them in a while!) rounds a corner and opens fire. The place is known as the Death Zone, an arena-like place on Gallifrey where beings from across the universe were sent to battle for amusement before the time of Rassilon. The Council sent two representatives who did not return. They attempted to send the Doctor, but all of his incarnations have vanished from the timeline. All of them (except the Fourth because Tom Baker had reasons) have been deposited in the Death Zone. Inside the Zone, the First Doctor and Susan trick the Dalek into a mirrored dead end. It fires and the reflected beam destroys the creature, revealing the mutant within the armored casing. Through a hole in the wall, they see the tower of the Death Zone and decide to investigate.

Elsewhere, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier tangle with Cybermen and the Third Doctor reunites with Sarah Jane as he rescues her from a terrible fall. As the First Doctor and Susan wander, they find the Fifth Doctor’s TARDIS and meet Tegan, Turlough, and the Fifth Doctor. The First Doctor spearheads introductions all around and then tasks Tegan with fetching refreshments. She objects, but the Fifth Doctor asks her to humor the oldest of the Doctors. After all, he used to get a bit tetchy. Meanwhile, the Master is sent into the Zone with the Seal of the High Council (to prove his credentials) and a transmat recall device. He is soon found by the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane, but the reunion is broken up by laser fire. The Master runs one direction while the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane go another, but without the aid of Bessie who took a direct hit to the engine.

The Fifth Doctor sets the TARDIS coordinates for the Dark Tower, a place that supposedly holds the tomb of Rassilon and is the current destination for all of the Doctors and companions. The Fifth Doctor, Susan, and Tegan set out on foot to disable the force field around it so the First Doctor and Turlough can move the TARDIS to its doorstep. Meanwhile, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier go in through the cave system beneath the tower, the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane encounter Cybermen, and the Fifth Doctor’s team encounters the Master. The last event is watched by a squad of Cybermen, who rush the Time Lords and stun the Master. The Fifth Doctor sends Susan (who twists her ankle) and Tegan back to the TARDIS before using the transmat recall to return to the capitol. The First Doctor decides to take up the Fifth Doctor’s task, and Tegan joins him. Amusingly, the First Doctor still has a great deal of resentment at being addressed as “Doc.”

The Fifth Doctor confers with the Inner Council about who has control of the time scoop and the Cybermen. He uncovers a homing beacon inside the recall device, surmising that someone led the Cybermen to the Master to attack the Doctors. Borusa has the Castellan, who originally gave the device to the Master, arrested and his office and quarters searched. Meanwhile, the Master makes an arrangement with the Cybermen, who then converge on the TARDIS.

The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane encounter a Raston Warrior Robot, a perfect killing machine, halting their progress until it passes. Luckily, the Cybermen approach and engage the Raston, providing a diversion for our heroes to escape (with the Raston’s supplies). In the caves, the Second Doctor and the Brig find a Yeti, which they evade before finding a door to the Dark Tower. It is unlocked, so a trap must lie beyond.

In the Citadel, a chest containing Black Scrolls of Rassilon, forbidden knowledge from the Dark Times, is found in the Castellan’s quarters. The Castellan is taken away for interrogation but is shot dead (without regeneration) en route. The Fifth Doctor is forbidden by Borusa from returning to the Death Zone. Flavia is tasked with taking care of the Fifth Doctor, and they discuss the possibility that the Castellan was not the traitor.

At this point, all three entrances to the Dark Tower are in use. The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane zipline across to the upper entrance, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier are in the basement, and the First Doctor and Tegan use a biometric entry coder to open the front door. The Master follows through the main entrance with the Cybermen. Interestingly, the First Doctor does not recognize his former classmate. The Master tricks the Cybermen into a death trap, but the CyberLeader survives until the Master tricks and kills him with a Cyberman blaster. The Master passes the trap, followed by the First Doctor and Tegan who survive by using π. Stay in school, kids… math can save your life.

The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane descend toward the Tomb of Rassilon, but the closer they get, the more psychic energy pushes back on Sarah Jane. The Third Doctor scouts ahead and finds former companions Mike Yates and Liz Shaw. Similarly, the Second Doctor encounters Zoe Heriot and Jaimie McCrimmon, but in both cases, the former companions are only specters designed to impede progress toward the heart of the tower. Once the Doctors understand that the companions are mere illusions, they disappear with chilling screams. The First Doctor is unaffected since, at his age, he has nothing left to fear.

The First, Second, and Third Doctors, along with their current traveling companions, finally arrive at the tomb. After a series of reunions, the Doctors decipher the Old High Gallifreyan language of mathematical symbols to discover that whoever wears Rassilon’s ring shall achieve immortality. The First Doctor is troubled by the last line in the text: “To lose is to win and he who wins shall lose.” The Master arrives shortly afterward and threatens the Doctors, but he is sucker-punched by the Brigadier and tied up by Tegan and Sarah Jane.

The Fifth Doctor goes to confer with Borusa, but the president is nowhere to be found. The Doctor discovers that the Harp of Rassilon is a musical key. The key unlocks a chamber where the figurines (including one of the Master) are being overseen by Borusa, the true mastermind of this scheme. The president is not satisfied with leading Gallifrey for all of his lifetimes, but instead want to be immortal and President Eternal. He plans to use the Doctors to clear the path and traps, leaving the way open for him to claim the prize. When the Fifth Doctor refuses to help, Borusa uses the power of the Coronet of Rassilon to compel his cooperation.

Politicians, right?

The Third Doctor reverses the polarity of the neutron flow on the control console, and with the forcefields down around the Tomb of Rassilon, the TARDIS engages autopilot and moves to the tomb with Susan and Turlough. The movement is just in time as the Cybermen detonate a bomb to destroy the TARDIS, but they miss. Soon, the Fifth Doctor and Borusa arrive via transmat to claim the prize. The first three Doctors combine their psionic powers to break the telepathic hold, and as the Fifth Doctor is freed, the voice of Rassilon issues a challenge to Borusa. The First Doctor convinces Rassilon to surrender the ring to Borusa, and the president’s desire is granted: The faces that line the plinth come to life, for they are those who have previously sought immortality, and Borusa becomes one of them.

Rassilon offers immortality to the Doctors, but they decline in exchange for the chance to go back to their respective timestreams. The Fourth Doctor is restored to Shada, and the Master is restored with the promise that his sins will find their punishment in due time. As the Doctors says their farewells, the First Doctor (smugly) explains that he convinced Rassilon to give Borusa the ring because he finally understood the riddle: It was a trap set by Rassilon to weed out the more selfish of their people because they were a danger to civilization. Each set of Doctors and companions boards the TARDIS in order and the TARDIS splits through a form of temporal fission to return them their proper homes.

Chancellor Flavia arrives and tells the Doctor that he is due back to the Citadel. Since Borusa has been disqualified, the High Council has decided that the Doctor shall resume his duties as Lord President. He orders Flavia back to the Citadel, telling her that she has full authority until he arrives in his TARDIS. After ushering Tegan and Turlough aboard, he sets a course and dematerializes, stunning his companions by announcing his intention to not take office.

“You mean you’re deliberately choosing to go on the run from your own people, in a rackety old TARDIS?”

“Why not? After all, that’s how it all started.”

 

All in all, this was a wonderful story to celebrate a significant milestone. I was curious, so I looked at scripted entertainment television across the United States and United Kingdom and came up with a short list of shows to reach twenty years by 1983: Coronation Street, Guiding Light, As the World Turns, General Hospital, The Wonderful World of Disney, Romper Room, Search for Tomorrow, Captain Kangaroo, and The Edge of Night. There were also a couple of semi-scripted children’s shows like Blue Peter and The Sooty Show, but the fact remains that, in a world dominated by soap opera longevity, Doctor Who was the only science-fiction drama reach that mark.

Yeah, they deserved this party.

I was very pleased to see so many of the companions back in action, even if their cameos were short. While I would have loved to see Liz, Zoe, and Jamie get into the mix, the saying holds true that too many cooks spoil the broth. It was clever, however, to subvert nostalgia with the canonical circumstances of The War Games. I appreciate that level of attention to detail.

I did miss having Tom Baker in the mix, which would have drawn The Five Doctors down to four if it hadn’t been for Richard Hurndall. From what I gather in fan circles, his involvement as the First Doctor is sometimes disparaged, but I thought he did a fantastic job. Mixing his performance with the archival footage at the beginning (effectively bringing us two First Doctors) was a nice touch and a beautiful tribute to the beginnings of this franchise.

Finally, that wonderful musical mix over the end credits to tie the eras together: C’est fantastique.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

 

UP NEXT – Twentieth Series Summary

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #129: The King’s Demons

Doctor Who: The King’s Demons
(2 episodes, s20e21-e22, 1983)

 

It’s half a nod to the black and white era with a pseudo-historical story.

In medieval Europe, King John of England feels that his reception at Lord Ranulf Fitzwilliam’s castle is insufficient, leading to the challenge of a duel between the king’s champion and the lord’s own son. At daybreak, the competition begins with a joust, but it is interrupted by the TARDIS as it arrives in the middle of the arena.

Turlough is frustrated since Earth is not his home, but the Doctor and his companions leave the TARDIS to assess the situation. They are welcomed as demons by the king, and the Doctor places the year as 1215, sometime around the signing of the Magna Carta. The travelers are seated with the king and the challenge continues. The champion nearly kills the lord’s son, but the Doctor convinces King John to spare the boy’s life, an act that earns Sir Ranulf’s respect. The travelers are given quarters, but the lord’s son takes Turlough captive and interrogates him.

In the room, the Doctor does the calculations and realizes that King John should not be at this place at this time: He’s supposed to be in London, taking the Crusader’s Oath. In the meantime, the king takes Sir Ranulf’s family hostage, prompting the lord to seek help from the Doctor. Lord Ranulf also mentions that his cousin, Sir Geoffrey de Lacy, is in London doing exactly what the king should be. The Doctor’s suspicions grow, fueled by Sir Geoffrey’s arrival and confirmation of the king’s presence in London.

The king’s guards arrest Sir Geoffrey and he is brought before the assembled court during a royal banquet. The Doctor challenges the king’s champion, resulting in a sword duel between the two which the Doctor wins. Shortly afterward, the knight drops his disguise, revealing that he is the Master. Dun-dun-dun…

I guess he survived Xeriphas.

The Master threatens the Doctor with his tissue compression eliminator, but the Doctor disarms his nemesis. The Master leaves his fate in the Doctor’s hands, but when the Doctor spares him, the king places the Master in the iron maiden that was meant for Sir Geoffrey. In a clever twist, the torture device was really the Master’s TARDIS. Additionally, the Master has control over the king (real or not).

The Master rematerializes in the jail cell containing Sir Ranulf’s family, and he convinces them to join forces against the Doctor. In the chambers above, the king knights the Doctor as his new champion. Sir Doctor arrests Sir Geoffrey as a ruse to get access to the dungeons. There, he barely misses the Master’s group but is able to free Turlough and sabotage the Master’s TARDIS.

The Doctor sends Sir Geoffrey to London, but the Master assassinates him en route. The Master turns the castle guards against the Doctor, but Tegan is able to get into the TARDIS and pilot it away as the Doctor escapes on foot. The Doctor stumbles across the king, who is really a shape-shifting machine named Kamelion, a tool used by a previous invader of Xeriphas and key to the Master’s escape. The android is controlled through psychokinesis, which the Time Lords have in spades.

The Master’s plan is to besmirch King John’s reputation with the android, spark an uprising driven by the public’s lack of confidence in the king’s leadership, and prevent the Magna Carta from establishing modern parliamentary democracy. It’s a smaller scheme than the Master normally works, but effective in uprooting a cornerstone of modern human society.

So, anyway, the Time Lords have a battle of wills over Kamelion which the Doctor wins. Kamelion turns into Tegan and, as the real Tegan materializes the TARDIS in the same chamber, the Doctor, Kamelion-Tegan, and Turlough rush aboard. The Master is thwarted, so he rushes to his own TARDIS, but since the Doctor sabotaged it, the time capsule’s destination is randomized.

As the Doctor programs his own TARDIS console, he invites Kamelion to join them, much to Tegan’s chagrin. When given the choice between accepting Kamelion or going home, Tegan chooses to remain on board. Next stop: The Eye of Orion… and a large celebration in the Doctor Who mythos.

Honestly, they could have sacrificed an episode from Terminus and given it to this one to boost the story. It would have helped both of them.

 

Programming note: I will be including The Five Doctors as part of Twentieth Series, which has thematically attempting to take a tour of the franchise’s greatest hits. I recognize that is it fits between the Twentieth and Twenty-First years, but I think the idea and purpose behind it fit better with this series than with the next. Tune in next week.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Five Doctors

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #128: Enlightenment

Doctor Who: Enlightenment
The Black Guardian Trilogy, Part III

(4 episodes, s20e17-e20, 1983)

 

Mawdryn high and Terminus low, finish strong by Enlightenment‘s glow?

In true K9 style, Turlough is playing chess with Tegan while she helps the Doctor diagnose the TARDIS. For whatever reason, the time capsule is losing power, bathing the console room in spoo-OO-ooky orange emergency lighting… which I actually kind of liked. Through a series of echoing voices, the Doctor decides to ramp up the power and invite an old friend onboard. The White Guardian appears and transmits a broken message of danger before the Black Guardian disrupts the channel. Turlough reduced the power to prevent the TARDIS from exploding, which prompts a sharp rebuke from the Doctor before he follows a set of coordinates and lands in a darkened ship’s hold.

The Doctor and Turlough explore the hold, leaving Tegan behind just in case the White Guardian can break through. Sure enough, the White Guardian returns and delivers a message, but the power requirements blow the console. There is also a strange face on the scanner screen, prompting Tegan to leave the TARDIS and look for the owner. It turns out that the man is creepy. Quite creepy. Tegan is soon apprehended as a stowaway, but the strange creepy officer takes her to her friends. Did I mention that he’s creepy?

The Doctor and Turlough find the ship’s crew in the bunkroom and the travelers decide to try blending in. Based on the newspaper, they appear to be on Earth onboard an Edwardian-era ship, and the crew mistakes the Doctor for the new ship’s cook. They also don’t remember coming aboard, but they do reveal that the ship is entered in some kind of race. The jovial discussion is interrupted by another officer who takes the Doctor away but leaves Turlough with the crew.

The Doctor and Tegan converge on the captain’s mess where Tegan briefs the exasperated Time Lord on the message. The ship’s commander, Captain Striker, arrives soon afterward and offers them dinner. He also introduces Tegan’s (creepy) escort as Marriner, the ship’s (creepy) first mate. The wind picks up, the ship rocks, and dinner is concluded as the crew (and Turlough) race topside for the grog ration. The Doctor intercepts Turlough and they meet up with Tegan and the officers in the ship’s wheelhouse.

Tegan spots what she thinks are wetsuits and the Doctor consults the nautical charts. They soon discover that the Edwardian yacht is really a spaceship and that they are one of a small fleet of sailing ships from various times. Tegan gets ill and is escorted to temporary quarters that are a mixture of her room on the TARDIS and her rooms in Brisbane, leading her to believe that the crew can read her mind. Marriner offers her a drink to mitigate her queasiness, and she falls asleep until Turlough joins her soon after. Wait… did Creepy McCreeperton just drug her?

The chart is one of the Sol system and each planet is a marker buoy on the race course. The captain explains that his people are Eternals, as compared to Ephemerals like the Doctor and his companions, and that they live in the trackless wastes of eternity. The ship rounds Venus, cutting their course tightly around the gravity well, but a trireme captained by an ancient Greek named Critas tries to follow and explodes.

The Doctor investigates what he think is sabotage, but Striker explains that each Eternal selects their ship, sources living beings from a suitable time period, and uses their minds for thoughts and ideas since the Eternals are unable to think on their own anymore. The process gives them existence and entertainment, and the prize at the end of the race is absolute enlightenment. (Ding – there’s the title!)

The travelers decide to rendezvous at Tegan’s quarters, though Turlough is waylaid by a bad experience with the Black Guardian. The Doctor and Tegan have a discussion that inadvertently tips the Eternals off about the TARDIS. As the duo sees to Turlough, the Eternals make the TARDIS disappear, trapping our heroes (and Turlough) on the ship. They eventually suit up and head topside, where Turlough is plagued by the taunting voice of the Black Guardian which prompts him to jump overboard.

As the second episode drew to a close, I wondered if the Doctor could let Turlough go. Probably not. Captain Striker refuses to change course, but the Buccaneer rescues Turlough. The captain is a pirate named Wrack, and she toys with the boy while offering a gift of a sword for competitor Captain Davey. Captain Wrack also invites the collective captains to dinner. Turlough convinces Wrack that he wants to be on the winning side, and he knows that she is the superior captain.

Tegan dresses for the party (looking positively smashing) but the delegation’s departure is delayed due to an asteroid storm. Meanwhile, Wrack does something odd in a vacuum-sealed room and Davey’s ship mysteriously explodes. It does not bode well to challenge the Buccaneer. The Doctor, Tegan, and Marriner head over to the party, and the Time Lord takes the opportunity to survey the attending guests and exchange his celery stalk. As the crowd mingles, Turlough investigates the vacuum chamber and discovers an eye-shaped grid that leads into the deep dark of space. One of the crew locks him in and releases the vacuum shield, but the Doctor saves him just in time. The Doctor examines the eye and decides that it probably focuses Wrack’s power through the red jewel above the grid, just like the red-jeweled ring that Captain Critas was wearing before his demise. The two travelers are soon apprehended by Wrack’s crew.

While they try to avoid the sharp edge of steel, Captain Wrack takes Tegan to her cabin and freezes the human in time. She then modifies Tegan’s tiara with a bright red jewel. It seems that the Edwardian ship is next on her hit list.

Tegan is released and subjected to the awkwardness of Marriner while Wrack interrogates the Doctor. The Doctor, Tegan, and Marriner are sent back to their ship as Wrack tests Turlough’s loyalty. She nearly sentences him to a long walk off a short plank, but he saves himself through a simple statement: “I serve him as I wish to serve you.” They are united through their relationship to the Black Guardian.

The Buccaneer draws even with the Edwardian ship and Wrack moves in for the kill, channeling the power of the Black Guardian. The Doctor and Tegan discover the jewel in the tiara and smash it, but the fragments only multiply the power. The Doctor throws the fragments overboard and they explode. The ship is saved, much to Marriner’s amazement, but the victory is short-lived as the winds die down and the Wrack pulls ahead. The Doctor demands that the TARDIS is returned, and he uses it to board the Buccaneer and confront Wrack.

Tegan witnesses two bodies fall overboard from the Buccaneer, and as the ship crosses the finish line near a large crystalline structure, the crew disappears and Striker and Marriner go across to pay their respects to the victor. The Enlighteners, the inhabitants of the crystal structure, are actually the White and Black Guardians, and they present the prize to the victors: The Doctor and Turlough. The bodies that fell overboard were Wrack and her first mate.

The Doctor refuses enlightenment, demanding instead that the Eternals be returned home to their endless void. The White Guardian offers a slice of enlightenment to Turlough. The Black Guardian reminds the boy of his contract, and Turlough refuses the crystal to save the Doctor, an act that disperses the Black Guardian in a ball of fire. Tegan doesn’t believe in Turlough’s change of heart, but the Doctor sees the lesson clearly: Enlightenment wasn’t the crystal, but rather the choice.

The White Guardian warns the Doctor that the Black Guardian has been crossed (Key to Time) twice now, and the powers of darkness do not dissipate with time. A third encounter will come, and it will not be easy. With the crisis averted, Turlough asks the Doctor to take him home – his real home – and the Doctor agrees.

Okay, so this helps to redeem Turlough a little bit, but I still don’t like him. It’s not his role as a wolf in sheep’s wool, but rather his character overall. He’s just so bland. Otherwise, it was nice to see a story in the Black Guardian trilogy that actually uses the Black Guardian to further his goals. It wasn’t a spectacular story, but it was better than Terminus.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The King’s Demons

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.